by Leslie Connor
Conditional Recommendation: 12-year-old Addie perseveres in her optimism and hope for a normal life while living in a little trailer with an unreliable mom who keeps abandoning her.
Award: Schneider Family Book Award for Middle School Book (2009)
I wasn’t sure about this book as I started reading—Addie calls her mom “Mommers” and it took me a little while to assimilate to Addie’s world and the wacky characters in it. But I resolved to give it a chance and I’m so glad I did. I wholeheartedly agree with the book jacket: “Leslie Connor has created an inspiring novel about one girl’s giant spirit. Waiting for Normal is a heartwarming gem.” Addie lives in a bleak reality because of a mother who doesn’t take care of her, has erratic moods and behaviors, and frequently abandons her for days on end in pursuit of one of her “business opportunities.” Despite this, Addie finds the good, resiliently takes care of herself and her mom, and never wavers in her belief that she could have a normal life filled with people and patterns she can count on day after day. Leslie Connor has skillfully written an amazing story with quiet themes of heroism and hope. Addie quickly finds a place in your heart and her disappointments and joys had me crying several times over, and books hardly ever make me cry to the point I need to blow my nose and wipe my eyes. Give this book a go. I hope it moves you as much as it moved me.
Addie is waiting for normal. But Addie’s mom has an all-or-nothing approach to life: a food fiesta or an empty pantry, jubilation or gloom, her way or no way. All or nothing never adds up to normal. All or nothing can’t bring you all to home, which is exactly where Addie longs to be, with her half sisters, every day.
Heroism – Addie has this idea that heroes can be everyday people and maybe you’re a hero to someone else and don’t even know it. Look for this theme. It’s subtle at first but it packs a big emotional punch as the story continues.
Family – Addie’s family is complicated. She describes it as “a road that keeps taking twists and turns.” Addie’s father passed away when she was three, then her mom married Dwight and had two children with him (Addie’s beloved younger half-sisters, Brynna and Katie), and we pick up the story two years after their divorce. Addie’s grandfather on her father’s side whom she calls, “Grandio” is somewhat in her life, but his outspoken disdain for her mom and her mom’s equally outspoken hatred for him, limit his presence in Addie’s life. She has a healthy, loving parent-child relationship with Dwight and she sees what a family could be when she’s able to visit him, her sisters, and Dwight’s lovely new fiancé.
Everywhere you can find problematic, destructive people, but you can also find really good people and sometimes in the most unlikely places. There’s no spirituality in this book, but the imagebearer quality of compassion is all over.
I loved Leslie Connor’s writing because it was simple—not flowery but incredibly meaningful. Each chapter is structured and written so well that it not only effectively communicates the plot but also imparts deeper meaning to the reader without bravado. I think subtle—lending meaning without spelling it out exactly—is a skill and Leslie Connor’s got it. For example, Addie is dyslexic but that word isn’t actually used until much later in the book. Instead, you’re given hints: “Webster’s dictionary confused me, and alphabetical order drove me nuts” or “I held a three-by-five card under the words to keep them still.”
Addie – The entire book is from her point of view and she will steal your heart. She optimistically accepts her life, makes observations about it, is not a fool when it comes to her mom’s antics, and she cautiously desires a more stable life…she hopefully waits for normal.
Mommers – She takes some getting used to because from the first pages she is screaming, proclaiming her ex-husband hates her (even while he takes care of her), and swings drastically from high to low. You do wonder what’s really wrong with her, but since the story is from Addie’s perspective, you don’t get a diagnosis. Mommers doesn’t know how to be a parent, by that I mean she doesn’t know how to care for others or really care about others. She is narcissistic and plays the child while Addie rises above play the parent and be responsible and circumspect.
Dwight – He’s technically Addie’s stepfather, but he’s truly her father in all respects. “…Dwight had always told me, there’ll be no ‘ex’ between you and me, Addie, girl, and I believed him.” He loves and takes care of her even after the divorce. It doesn’t matter to him that she’s not blood related. He’s adopted her into his heart and in his quiet sometimes awkward way, remains in her life as her guardian and provider as much as he can be. The more I learned about him the more I adored his character.
Soula – The wacky, oddly dressed, quick to laugh and joke, plump and unhealthy woman who lives across the street whom Addie befriends immediately after she and Mommers move into the trailer. She’s a fascinating, tragic character—she’s undergoing chemotherapy and there are hints that it’s not going well for her. She plays an instrumental role in Addie’s life and vise versa. Their relationship is so heartwarming, enjoyable, and loving.
Elliot – He owns the corner gas station and Soula is his best friend. He’s in a relationship with the local restaurant owner and the homosexual relationship is treated as no big deal, normal, nothing out of the ordinary. His character is a perfect complement to Soula’s and they banter and prank each other in such a charming way that you know their friendship is deep. Addie also befriends him as easily as she does Soula.
It’s everything you could want for a story like this.
There are several content issues to be aware of in this book: Homosexuality is neither condemned nor praised, it’s just there in the story as a normal fixture. The twisted up nature of Mommers and each of her relationships is tumultuous and difficult—she makes them that way by lying, yelling, trying to guilt-trip, pursuing her own interests no matter the consequences, and just being unreasonable. Addie is frequently cooking for herself and counting out the meals she is able to make from the sparse food supplies her mom leaves her with. Like homosexuality, it’s treated as normal that Dwight is living and sharing a bed with his fiancé. It’s also clearly implied that Mommers is sleeping with her new “business partner” because she often spends nights and days with him and away from Addie.
It’s interesting to get a different take on life and a complicated family from the eyes of a 12-year-old. I love wholesome books, but I also appreciate when a story shows the hardships and complications of reality without dwelling in the darkness or succumbing to it. Addie is not depressed or despairing, she’s not unreasonably cynical or even angry. This story is a testament to the power of hope in protecting you from being enveloped by the darkness of life.
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